Gauging youth on non-degree options


Interest among youth in alternatives to college degrees continues to grow, but a new survey indicates many young people don’t know much about non-degree options or how to determine their quality.

The survey from American Student Assistance and Jobs for the Future examines non-college-bound youth’s perspectives on education and career plans. What it finds is that there is an increased interest in non-degree pathway programs — apprenticeships, boot camps, licenses, certificates and certifications — but a lack of understanding about those programs appears to be a barrier.

For example, two in three Gen Z youth who did not pursue a non-degree education pathway indicated they would have considered this option if they had known more about it, according to a report on the findings. Also, nearly a quarter of survey respondents said their need to focus on work is a barrier to pursuing a pathway program, even though there are programs that offer opportunities to earn while they learn.

So how are youth getting information about pathway options? Nearly nine in 10 (87%) of survey respondents said web searches are their main source of info. Another 81% indicate they watch online videos. Two-thirds (66%) say they get guidance from their parents, and 52% say they are influenced by friends.

The survey also found differences between genders. For example, among respondents who didn’t pursue or aren’t pursuing any non-degree postsecondary pathway, a higher proportion of females than males reported their high schools didn’t encourage pathways (25% compared to 18%, respectively).

The findings also show a higher proportion of females than males in non-pathway programs perceive that employers favor job applicants with college degrees (27% among females compared to 18% among males). In addition, a higher percentage of women than men (26% versus 18%, respectively) say they don’t know what career options are available through non-degree pathways.

Feeling confident

Non-degree pathways appear to yield several positive results for those in the programs. For example, program participants seem more confident in their post-high school path than those not on pathways (70% compared to 57%).

Pathway youth also reported less unemployment than non-pathway youth. More pathway youth (65%) said they are working part- or full-time, compared with 51% of non-pathway youth. Nine in 10 respondents also said they were satisfied with the pathway they are pursuing or pursued. The top reasons for that satisfaction are the opportunity to engage in hands-on work and learn by doing, that pathways were faster to complete and that they provided participants with the education and training they needed to obtain a job in their desired field.

The report also noted that the flexibility offered in a number of pathway program models is attractive to students who may be looking for options to fit into their schedules. And programs that are either paid for or offer pay are also appealing.

“Boot camps, for example, can often fit around a person’s existing schedule, enabling them to upskill in short bursts (often lasting a matter of days or weeks) and with much, if any, loss of productivity or income,” the report says. “Certification programs are often conducted online and frequently incentivized and paid for by employers, who themselves stand to benefit from workers’ new credentials.”

Again, there are differences among genders when it comes to reasons why students are satisfied with their non-degree pathway. A higher percentage of women than men cited as a reason that the programs were faster to complete (49% versus 34%), getting the education and training needs to get a job in their desired field (40% versus 36%), allowed them to work while pursuing their education (39% versus 29%), and that the programs allowed them to get a postsecondary education without taking on debt (38% versus 30%).

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